1792: Tiradentes, for a Brazilian republic

On this date in 1792, Joaquim JosĂ© da Silva Xavier — better known to Brazilian history as Tiradentes — was hanged in Rio de Janeiro and his body quartered for public exposition.

Pedro Americo’s 1893 Tiradentes Esquartejado delivers what it promises.

Tiradentes — “tooth-puller,” a scornful nickname its owner has made glorious, alluding to the span of his itinerant career spent in dentistry — had participated in a conspiracy to detach the province of Minas Gerais from the Portuguese empire.

The InconfidĂȘncia Mineira featured the unpromising combination of a large number (the conspiracy was betrayed from within) of middle-class intellectuals (Tiradentes was of an unusually low social strata) without a common programme or a practical notion of what to do once they had seized power. That the Portuguese monarch felt at liberty to commute every other death sentence seems a measure of the plotters’ — if one may put it this way — toothlessness.

Tiradentes was obstinate in maintaining responsibility for the plot, although he wasn’t the leader in particular; for his resulting pains on the scaffold, he traded dentistry for immortality. Now officially recognized as a hero of Brazil, his name adorns the square where he was dismembered and (like Zumbi dos Palmares) his execution date is a public holiday.

When the tides of national fervor made such a rehabilitation politic, the would-be free state of Minas Gerais likewise adopted the conspirators’ banner as its own flag: the motto reads “Liberty, although overdue”.

On this day..

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